Travel-Related Books Make Great Gifts for Friends with a Wandering Eye
By Linda Ballou NABBW’s Adventure Travel Associate
I love travel narratives. These are a few of my favorite travel books sure to whet your wanderlust. These are not typical guidebooks, they represent well-written travel literature.
Travels in a Thin Country by Sara Wheeler
Sara travels in a way that I would love to do, but just don’t have the stamina. From soggy sleeping bags, to elaborate dinners at elegant haciendas she shares the highs and lows of Chili—a country of extremes.
Home to some of the highest volcanoes in the world, vast expanse of desert and tropical forests and of course, the glaciers of Patagonia, it takes a savvy traveler to navigate it’s wonders.
Ms. Wheeler provides a well-informed look into the culture, history and politics of a place. Her writing is exceptional with lyrical descriptions and amusing observations.
If you contemplating a trip to this thin country put this books on the top of your list. Right there next to Bruce Chatwin’s Patagonia.
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
What a wonderful find. Alexandra Fuller captures the seduction of the African sun burnt landscape. The vast spaces that set the mind sailing seduced her parents and made them stay against great adversity.
They lived in Kenya when British Colonists spent their days in royal comfort, but those days ended with a revolution and war in the 60’s.
Ms. Fuller masterfully weaves the very personal history of her dramatic childhood and the life of her stiff upper lip parents against the backdrop of a tumultuous time.
Her parents chose to remain in Africa after their lands were seized and to set up housekeeping in remote Zambia where they found peace under the” Tree of Forgetfullness.” I have ordered the third book in the trilogy of Ms. Fuller’s stunning memoir.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
Adams delivers a healthy portion of dry information made palatable by interjecting doses of self-deprecating humor that are often laugh-out-loud funny.
The pasty-white New York journalist trudges behind a leathery Australian obsessed with the ruins of the Incas, up daunting mountains and then back down into the soggy Amazonian rain forest.
We follow in the footsteps of Hiram Brigham III, who dedicated about half of his life to finding the Lost City of the Incas but had to settle for being credited with the discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911. Adams focuses mainly on Brigham, geography and history, but never tells us much about the Incas themselves.
I enjoyed the book, found it very informative and entertaining which is what good travel writing should be, but I felt disappointed that I didn’t learn more about the culture of the people who built Machu Picchu.
The Way of Wanderlust by Don George
Don George’s very personal travel memoir is about connections with other humans and a few very large creatures.
- At Notre Dame, he feels connected to the past and all those that have walked through that portal to Christianity.
- In Cambodia, he spends three nights in the home of a family and is moved to tears by the simplicity of the way they share life’s chores and joys in modesty.
- In the Sea of Cortez, he communes with a whale. His writing is poetic broaching lyrical and is very Moving.
He raises the bar for travel writers. We are not to simply take our readers to a place through their senses in good writing, we are supposed to deliver the meaning of life in subtext.
I believe the dance is all there is, so I am determined to get to the Cook Islands where Don connected with the shimmying hips of natives in the balmy, palmy breezes. In fact, I have been so stirred by his descriptions of his experience there that I must go soon! It is no longer some musing in a distant future.
Don’s writing has made me want to be there, to know the tranquil beauty of the horseshoe shaped lagoon and the laughing eyes of the Island people. In short, to be more connected with the rhythms of life.
The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux
When I learned that Paul Theroux, one of my favorite travel writers, had written the Tao of Travel I rushed to get a copy.
At first I was disappointed that Theroux would waste his considerable talent on a compilation of other travel writers of note. But, as I got into his very personal critiques and reflections on the greats like Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry David Thoreau, Sir Richard Burton and Joseph Conrad, I looked forward to eavesdropping on the “long conversation” about travel writers.
Theroux talks about the little known realities of some of the greats: Edgar Rice Burroughs, who created the Tarzan character, had never been to Africa. Steinbeck did travel with his dog Charlie for three months, but he who also indulged in conjugal visits from his wife along the way.
The book reads like a tabloid reality check on “who’s who” in the travel writing genre. Theroux also talks about the paradoxes of travel, the wisdom of travel and its perverse pleasures. As usual, Theroux pulls no punches in his discussion of his peers or precursors.
I confess that in the end I enjoyed what felt like ”Happy Hour with Paul,” even though he slandered my home town, Los Angeles; lumping it in with Bombay and Tokyo “which are known for their ugly buildings and bad air.”
Baboons for Lunch by James Michael Dorsey
I love a man with a sense of humor. It’s hard to imagine the distinguished gentleman I know as James Dorsey to be slinging dun balls at monkeys, or bouncing unceremoniously across the desert on a camel, but he does.
In his effort to connect with cultures that are rapidly disappearing, he finds himself in some precarious situations. He always handles them with respect for his hosts and delivers insights to his readers.
This is a wonderful, well-written collection of tales from silly to soul searching. Obviously influenced by Tim Cahill, my travel writing hero, James shares his exploits with self-deprecating humor while delivering a deeper message.
Finally, may I add my own contribution to travel literature?
Lost Angel Walkabout – One Traveler’s Tales by Linda Ballou as reviewed by James Michael Dorsey
Lost Angel Walkabout takes the reader out of their armchair and into the vast world as few travel writers can. Her eye for detail, combined with intimate knowledge of her surroundings, sets Ms. Ballou heads above most of the travel writing pack.
In this age when everyone with a back pack proclaims him or herself a travel writer it takes a book like this one to re-define the genre.
The stories are personal and inviting, giving the reader not only a feeling of participation but leaving them with a memory of where they have just visited.
This is just plain great travel writing.